When people talk about urban farms images of veggies grown in window boxes, small-scale community gardens and inner-city allotments might spring to mind. However, urban farming is gaining momentum as specialist companies invest in delivering commercial scale.
“Public opinion and decision makers in Europe often reduce urban agriculture to community gardening activities. It is in fact more—as proven by numerous enterprises and projects all over Europe,” noted Wageningen University professor Jan Willem van der Schans in a study, It Is a Business! Business Models in Urban Agriculture.
Urban farming specialists
Ljusgårda is one such urban farming group. The Swedish company is preparing to kick off production in a 7,000 square metre indoor urban farm in Tibro.
The facility, a re-purposed old factory, has been redeveloped into a state-of-the-art indoor controlled environment facility with the capacity to grow over 1,000 tonnes of vegetables a year.
The crops will be grown in hydroponic vertical cultivation towers combined with state-of-the-art energy-efficient LED lighting – and will be totally free from pesticides.
"Our goal is to produce tasty high-quality vegetables that our customers can eat with a good conscience. No pesticides, low water consumption and a 100% renewable energy, and since the products are locally produced, we avoid long transports and emission," explained Andreas Wilhelmsson, CEO of Ljusgårda.
In addition to shortening the food chain, advanced technologies will enable Ljusgård to extend the growing season, Wilhelmsson continued.
“Controlled environments agriculture allows us to control every aspect of our growing environment. This includes nutrition, water, temperature, light and more. A controllable lighting solution… also lets us adjust the light spectrum to fit specific crops. This enables us to create an optimal environment for diverse crops, accelerate harvest and achieve consistent, high-quality production year-round. Achieving year-round yields are something you can’t take for granted in a country like Sweden," he commented.
UrbanFarmers operates one of Europe’s largest and oldest urban farms on the roof of a former office block in The Hague. Founder and CEO Roman Gaus believes that urban agriculture has the potential to stimulate conversations around ‘better’ food systems.
“Consumers are more than ever willing to appreciate sustainable, healthy food. I also believe that food should be grown where it’s eaten, because that eliminates the middlemen and creates a more transparent, trustworthy food system that is better for all of us. I strongly believe in the potential to grow food in cities is massive and global.”
Delhaize seizes the opportunity
As urban agriculture gains steam, some mainstream operators are also experimenting with the concept.
Retailer Ahold Delhaize has opened an urban farm on the roof of one of its Delhaize supermarkets in Belgium.
Located in the Brussels area, the farm consists of a garden and a greenhouse, that allows Delhaize customers to buy freshly picked vegetables that are grown exclusively on-site.
The brand is the first supermarket in Belgium to grow vegetables atop one of its stores. The company said the initiative highlights Delhaize's long-term commitment to provide local, sustainable products while lowering CO2 emissions from less distribution.
On the benefits, Delhaize communications chief Roel Dekelver said the urban farm boosts the company’s reputation and provides a “short chain [that] reduces food miles”. He added that the system helps make the overall store operations more sustainable: “A green roof insulates better. [We are also able to] recuperate natural water [and] reuse the heat of our fridges in the store to heat the greenhouse."
Delhaize is growing five kinds of lettuce – including baby leaf and watercress - as well as additional types of vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.
Dekelver added that the project has “definitely” proven a hit with consumers. “Thanks to the national and international visibility of this project, customers are enthusiastic,” he observed.
Delhaize hopes to roll out further urban agriculture projects and Dekelver said there is scope to develop them “in another setting”. There are currently no specific timings for the roll out, however.